GRANDSTANDING HAS CONSEQUENCES
By Dr. Michael Rubin
U.S. House Democrats brought the resolution to a vote, despite entreaties from the White House to postpone it. For Congress, though, the resolution was less about rectifying history than grandstanding. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (Democrat - California) called a vote. It passed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat - California) pooh-poohed the episode. This was not about Turkey, she explained, but rather "about the Ottoman Empire." Unclear, though, is why congressional Democrats felt the urgent need to condemn an entity that hasn't existed for 85 years.
Unfortunately, grandstanding has consequences. Turkey recalled its Ambassador; and now the U.S. State Department finds itself now devoid of leverage to prevent a Turkish incursion into Iraq to fight Kurdish terrorists. Pelosi's posturing has put in jeopardy U.S. use of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to supply our forces both in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If only the Armenian Genocide resolution was an isolated event. It's amateur hour in Congress. The efforts of Senator Joseph Biden (Democrat - Delaware) to divide Iraq on ethnic and religious grounds threaten to spark civil war just as U.S. servicemen make inroads in preventing it. Biden's motivation may be to garner media attention. He has succeeded. The problem, though, his statements get more airtime in Iran and Iraq, where revolutionary mullahs use his pronouncements to convince Iraqis that U.S. forces seek to destroy Iraq, rather than rebuild it.
The list goes on. In May, 2006, Representative Jack Murtha (Democrat - Pennsylvania.) said that U.S. Marines executed Iraqis "in cold blood." Overnight, his clip became an Al-Jazeera favorite. Islamist terrorists used Murtha's words to justify their murder of Americans. Now, a court martial has dismissed murder charges against the servicemen Murtha accused; Murtha has yet to apologize.
Other congressmen see intelligence briefings as an a la carte menu for chest-thumping leaks, rather than part of confidential oversight duties. Every leak splashed across the New York Times undercuts the war on terror.
Junkets also have a cost. Basking in the glow of Pelosi's headline-garnering visit to Damascus — again in contravention of a State Department request — Syrian leader Bashar al-Asad upgraded his support for Hezbollah and his nuclear dealings with North Korea.
The resolution, while important to the Armenian-American community — perhaps less so to Armenians living in Armenia who worry much more about economic development — also raises a host of questions about how Congress picks and chooses which atrocities to weigh in on. While Condoleezza Rice seeks to bring Beijing on board with Iran sanctions — a Herculean, if not impossible, task — will the House Foreign Affairs Committee condemn Beijing for the millions who perished during the Cultural Revolution? Their murders — politically motivated and, as far as the historical record is concerned, far more deliberate and coordinated — also occurred much more recently. Perhaps the House Foreign Affairs Committee will also act to bring Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masud Barzani to justice for ordering the disappearance and summary executions of perhaps 3,000 Kurds during the 1994-1997 Kurdish civil war. This is not to suggest that such cases should not be pursued. But, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is not the place to pursue such historical investigations; universities are.
In an election season, Pelosi, Biden, and Murtha, may have no greater goal than to garner headlines, but U.S. servicemen fighting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan do. Countering proliferation and fighting terrorism will dominate diplomacy regardless of who next occupies the White House. There's no time for amateur hour. As U.S. troops continue to sacrifice to defend U.S. national security, it is unfortunate that headline seeking congressmen seek to make their job that much harder.
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Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in National Review Online, October 15, 2007 and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat.
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